A single cannabis plant contains over 100 compounds that are known as cannabinoids–the two most infamous of which are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC or more commonly “THC”) and cannabidiol (CBD). But what about all the other ones? Do any of them provide potential psychotropic effects and/or pharmacological effects? In this article, we’ll try to answer these questions by talking about some of the lesser-known types of cannabinoids.
Like all living things, cannabis plants contain natural chemical compounds–many of which are believed to have positive pharmacological effects. The compounds that have only recently begun to be studied more and more for their potentially therapeutically beneficial effects are cannabinoids.
Existing within your body and brain is your endocannabinoid system, which contains a network of cannabinoid receptors, which are loops of protein that play a huge role in how you experience temporary and chronic pain, including neuropathic pain.
When you smoke/vape marijuana buds or ingest cannabis products the cannabinoids in the nuggets or cannabis concentrate head for your cannabinoid receptors and alter how they function, which is most likely why medical cannabis users tend to experience some form of pain relief due to how the cannabinoids interact with their body’s cannabinoid receptors.
However, there are a lot more cannabinoids to be found in cannabis plants, and we’ll talk about some of these minor cannabinoids that tend to get overshadowed by THC and CBD.
The Endocannabinoid System
Endocannabinoid molecules, cannabinoid receptors, and metabolic enzymes are the three main components of the endocannabinoid system that all work together to achieve homeostasis.
Cannabinoid CB1 receptor and cannabinoid CB2 receptor are the two types of cannabinoid receptors that exist, and are what the cannabinoids in cannabis attach themselves to. Furthermore, the cannabinoid CB1 receptor is what helps our bodies to regulate and maintain balance, aka “homeostasis.”
The endocannabinoid molecules bind with the cannabinoid receptors of CB1 and CB2, which serves to “activate” them. To keep things as simple as possible, there are two main types of endocannabinoids: anandamide, aka the “bliss molecule,” which primarily binds with the cannabinoid CB1 receptors; and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which mainly binds with cannabinoid CB2 receptors.
After all of this occurs, the metabolic enzymes located within the receptors “destroy” the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) in anandamide and the monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) in 2-AG, once the two molecules have served their purpose.
This entire process that occurs within the endocannabinoid system is all about providing us with the healthy balance or homeostasis that we need.
So what are some of the other minor cannabinoids that have been studied and researched at least enough to end up having papers about them published in the National Library of Medicine and that are worth knowing about?
Well, to start with, there’s:
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Delta-8 THC
- Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-O or THC-O-acetate), and
- Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)
While some of these minor cannabinoids have been rising in prominence over the past few years, especially CBG, CBN, and Delta-8 THC, they still aren’t nearly as well-known by the majority of marijuana users–even seasoned ones.
Therefore, as wonderful as it would be to cover each one of these aforementioned minor cannabinoids in depth, we’ll keep this to just a few as otherwise you’ll be here all day reading until it’s time to take an edible and fall asleep.
Three Minor Cannabinoids
Of all the minor cannabinoids, delta-8 THC is probably the best-known, where even non-cannabis users are likely to have at least heard its name when reading or listening to the news, etc.
While it may seem like a new and recent “discovery,” Delta-8 has been known about since at least 1965 when Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli organic chemist whose research on marijuana earned him the unofficial nickname of “the father of cannabis research,” first isolated THC and in the process of doing so he also discovered delta-8 THC.
Found in trace amounts in both hemp and cannabis plants, delta-8, whose cousin is the internationally-recognized celebrity cannabinoid delta-9 THC, aka “THC.”
If delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC were beers, delta-9 THC would be a craft-brewed, full-bodied ale, and delta-8 would be a low-ABV (low-alcohol) beer. This is to say that while both delta-8 and 9 produce euphoric psychoactive effects, delta-9 THC’s are so much stronger that its cousin delta-8 is sometimes referred to as “marijuana-lite” or “diet weed.” And just as low-ABV beer is highly unlikely to get you drunk and leave you waking with a hangover, delta-8 is unlikely to get you super high and leave you with any negative effects like feelings of paranoia or being overly sedated.
Potential Health Benefits of Delta-8 THC
The National Cancer Institute states that delta-8 is able to bind to the “cannabinoid G-protein coupled” CB1 receptor, which is located in the central nervous system.
As mentioned above, delta-8’s psychotropic effects are not nearly as strong as delta-9 THC, which means that it doesn’t bind to the CB1 receptor as well. As a result, delta-8 has its own unique set of properties that may be therapeutically beneficial, some of which are provided below.
- Calm and soothe nausea
- Stimulate the appetite
- Provide pain relief for both chronic and neuropathic pain
- Alleviate anxiety and boost mental health
- Prevent vomiting during cancer-related treatments
Controversies Around Delta-8 THC
Now, here is where it gets interesting; because Delta-8 is usually* derived from CBD via a process known as “isomerization,” and CBD is extracted from hemp, Delta-8 is technically considered to be legal. However, a growing number of states in the U.S., including ones like Colorado and New York where recreational cannabis is legal, are starting to ban or severely limit its use. The reason that they are starting to ban or limit its use is because chemists and other authorities, such as the FDA and CDC, have raised what appear to be some legitimate safety concerns as some products with Delta-8 may contain poisonous contaminants or may not even contain Delta-8 at all due to the fact that there aren’t any real regulations in place for ensuring that it is safely and correctly derived. As such, while cannabis activists and advocates don’t advocate for Delta-8 being banned, they are also calling for it to be regulated as a means of ensuring that the proper safety measures are put in place.
Often called “the mother of all cannabinoids,” cannabigerol (CBG) is THE cannabinoid that all other cannabinoid types are derived. Found in hemp and cannabis sativa plants, CBG, like CBD, doesn’t have the strong psychotropic effects of delta-9 THC.
Young cannabis sativa plants or hemp plants are usually harvested for their CBG content because this is when they contain the highest quantities of an acidic form of CBG known as cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Once a hemp or cannabis sativa plant matures this cannabigerolic acid is converted into CBDA and THCA, which are then converted to CBD and delta-9 THC.
Available in many product forms, such as gummies, tinctures, capsules, topicals, etc. CBG is often used together with CBD because the combined effects of cannabinoids such as these two are believed to be complementary to one another.
Some of the potential medical benefits of CBG are listed below:
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Temporary and chronic pain relief
- Slowing down cell growth in tumors and cancer cells
- Stimulate bone growth
- Stimulate appetite
- Provide sleep support
- Calm and soothe anxiety
Lastly, because CBG does not have any real psychoactive effects, it doesn’t seem to have any real adverse effects worth mentioning. However, like delta-8, CBG is largely unregulated; so, when you are buying a cannabis product with CBG make sure that the company has conducted third-party testing and has a certificate of analysis (COA) for their product–all of which should be on their website.
THC-O is a synthetic cannabinoid that has psychoactive effects. To explain things as simply as possible, THC-O is produced by CBD being extracted from hemp into delta-8, after which acetic anhydride is added to it to produce THC-O acetate / ACTCH.
Like Delta-8, THC-O is legal because it is derived from CBD, which is derived from hemp. The majority of users say it THC-O is 2-3 times stronger than the effects of cannabis strain with a high THC content, with a much more intense high. They also say that its psychedelic effects border on being hallucinogenic. As such, experts caution that you start off with a very small amount first, and wait the full 20-60 minutes that it takes to fully absorb into your body and fully hit you before you take more, so as to avoid any overwhelming and adverse effects, such as lethargy, nausea, and paranoia.
In terms of THC-O’s potential health benefits, some users say that it helps to reduce pain, or at least pain perception, and to alleviate stress. Others claim that it helps with sleep and to increase appetite. However, more research does need to be conducted before its therapeutic benefits can be more than anecdotal.